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Bringing light into dark

Monday morning, my husband asked me to read a heavily researched article about a small pack of men who had been systematically distorting American media with lies, creating an alternate reality now espoused by many.

My response? Not that enlightened. “Can I have my tea first, and would you promise to find me an equivalent amount of good news to go with this?”

My nervous system doesn’t do that well diving into darkness before breakfast without some balancing light.

Using a value scale

A value scale


I’ve been thinking about the relationship of dark to light as my online art class with Nicholas Wilton explores “the value scale.” A value scale is a tool that helps us identify the ratio of darkness and light in gray tones and in colors.

It teaches me to see. What I call dark is rarely as dark as I think. When I look at nature through the lens of the value scale, I find very few true blacks and whites. A landscape always contains a gorgeous mixture of tones—part of what makes it beautiful.

It’s a reminder to me that in life, dark and light go together.

Contemporary writers whom I love, like Suleika Jaouad (Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted) and Kate Bowler (Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved), are able to share their painful journeys with cancer—without either sugarcoating them or wallowing in them. They offer us light and dark with a range of values in between.

The poet-philosopher John O’Donohue, in his interview with podcaster Krista Tippett, talked about how beauty can help us endure darkness, something both Jaouad and Bowler understand.

As John spoke:

“There are individuals holding out on frontlines, holding the humane tissue alive in areas of ultimate barbarity, where things are visible that the human eye should never see. And they’re able to sustain it, because there is, in them, some kind of sense of beauty that knows the horizon that we are really called to in some way. I love Pascal’s phrase, that you should always keep something beautiful in your mind. And I have often — like in times when it’s been really difficult for me, if you can keep some kind of little contour that you can glimpse sideways at, now and again, you can endure great bleakness.”

A week of light and dark

Most faiths have a way of including the darkness with the light, the sorrow with the joy.

This week is Holy Week in the Christian calendar when the Easter saga includes the darkest dark and the brightest light.

What could be darker than the world conspiring against and then executing an innocent man who made it his purpose to bring love and forgiveness to the world?

Or more light-filled than discovering that His presence continues to live in a way that could uplift and inspire? (I refer to a Christianity that fosters love and not its terrible off-shoots that espouse fear, judgment, and hate.)

I’ve been in churches, though, that seem to forget the darkness of the week and head straight to the light. As a child, my Easters were about full sweetness and light, bonnets, bunnies, pastel colors, chocolates shaped like rabbits, and Easter eggs.

But I was a child, too young to embrace the full weight of suffering that went with the story.

It would take years before I understood that darkness can accentuate light and make it more beautiful—as in this 17th-century painting by Rembrandt.

Rembrandt, Return of the Prodigal

Turning to beauty

When I’ve read my fill of news and my life tips towards more darkness than I can hold, my remedy is to look for the beauty John O’Donohue describes.

“It [beauty] does not wait for perfection but is present already secretly in everything. When we beautify our gaze, the grace of hidden beauty becomes our joy and our sanctuary.”

from the book Beauty by John O’Donohue.

When we live with our eyes seeking beauty, it becomes more visible. We are able to see it hidden in darkened corners during dark times.

And it helps to laugh

Another form of light is laughter, and it never hurts to laugh.

I found a moment of uplifting humor in this ad from the Swiss Tourism office—featuring tennis superstar Roger Federer and comedian Trevor Noah. I hope you enjoy!

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